A couple weeks back I was toiling away at a Warehouse 21 concert and thinking to myself how this town could use more young bands to dilute some of the old bastard energy around town. As talented and full of potential as a lot of these kids may be, they’re still fairly new to the music game and many are still finding their footing on the road to musical superstardom.
Thus, when four-piece rock act Venus and the Lion took the stage I didn't think twice…until they started their set. Holy shit.
It began with a seemingly minimal guitar riff that instantly wedged itself into my brain to stay and hearkened back to the glory days of bluesdriven hard rock courtesy of Nate Smerage. A monstrously pleasing beat followed from the hands and sticks of Colton Liberatore and set down the groove. Bassist Daniel Mench-Thurlow ba-doomed his way into the action and tightened the whole production. And then singer Maggie Johnson stepped nervously up to the mic. She seemed shy and introverted, but from the moment she let loose, she proceeded to blow just about every last Santa Fe vocalist out of the water (with respect to Felecia Ford). Take note, nerds—Venus and the Lion may just be the best band Santa Fe has seen in ages.
The story begins at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Liberatore and Smerage met at the school and struck up a laid-back musical partnership. Hailing from Denver and Chicago respectively, Liberatore and Smerage had previously been involved with musical projects that were more about hanging out than making it big, and they would jam out in a non-professional manner until Mench-Thurlow, on loan from Vermont, just happened upon them practicing.
Mench-Thurlow was a longtime guitar and sax player, but asked the dudes if they were looking for a bassist. Indeed they were, and the three would rock out as a bluesy, rock-ish jam band of sorts for fellow students from time to time. Johnson came later when the boys saw the Minnesotan perform the song "My Medicine" by The Pretty Reckless at a showcase of music students on campus.
"I was originally a theatre major, but it wasn't a good time for me, so I discovered the music program, realized how awesome it was and switched over," Johnson tells SFR. "I'd done music in high school, but had been discouraged by my school's program…coming to SFUAD rekindled that love."
The boys were rightly impressed and invited Johnson to join the fold. The rest is, as they say, history.
This was just about a year and a half ago, and since Venus and the Lion has settled on their lineup, they've been steadily writing songs, playing the occasional show and constantly tightening their sound to support the release of their first ep titled Absinthe. Recorded at local studio Kabby Sound with engineer Matthew Kabakoff, the five-song album is a concise and excellent cross-section of what the band is all about, namely killer riffage, a rhythm section that knows how to groove and Johnson's phenomenal vocal work. Absinthe was recorded primarily live and without a click track (this is impressive in case you didn't know), which provides a very authentic representation of their live show. And as much as it's important to note that each member is brilliant at what they do and vital to Venus and the Lion's great sound, it is Johnson's enormous stage presence and highenergy vocals that truly seal the deal.
As we speak, the quartet is working on making Santa Fe their full time residence. They'd also like to pick up some more shows and, if local promoters are smart, this will happen. V&L carries a universal appeal whether your thing is grooving out or rocking hard. Says Mench-Thurlow, "We are trying to make songs for anyone who wants to have a great time, but will also appeal to any musicians in the crowd who will maybe say, 'Oh, I see what they're doing.'" Whatever your musical proclivities may be, it's essential for Venus and the Lion to be on your radar. I've seen a whole hell of a lot of bands in this town, and this one is truly special. Absinthe can be found at venusandthelion.bandcamp.com, and needs to be in your collection ASAP. Like, as in right now.